Many themes weave themselves through the tapestry of scripture, "here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept." Because information about a given theme or subject is not found all in one book or chapter of the Bible it is easy to miss great principles of truth hidden away in the pages of Holy Writ.
One of the amazing themes of Scripture is the that of "the great harlot." This Biblical topic is not about ladies of the night, prostitutes, street walkers, or fallen women as such. Women in the Bible are found to run the full gamut from Jezebel to Deborah, from the lowest to the most virtuous. They receive no treatment different from that of men in the Bible who range from crooks, murderers and thieves to mighty men of valor. But sometimes the figure of an anonymous woman is used in Scripture as a type or symbol of the average ordinary believer. A good example of this usage is found in Romans 7:1-4:
"Do you not know, brethren---for I am speaking to those who know the law--- that the law is binding on a person only during his life? Thus a married woman (here the woman is typical of every believer) is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband (typical of every believer's natural life in Adam, the first husband) dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man (her second husband is Christ raised from the dead) she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God."
In this illustration the "woman" is morally neutral in a sense. She has the bad fortune of being found married to the wrong man. If she flirts with a different man the Law of Moses is there to find her guilty of adultery---because she is bound by her marriage covenant to remain true to her first husband---for better or for worse. In this case her first husband is sin, sin inherited from Adam. Fortunately we are told that this woman's first husband dies, thereby setting her free to be married to another. Her second husband is Jesus Christ. Or to be more precise, Adam is her first husband, she comes into the world "married" to her own fallen nature, wed to sin. But on the cross, Jesus Christ took on Adam's sin. When Christ died, Adam died. This is because "He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Then Christ came back from the dead. The Second Adam could n ow become a fitting husband for this woman. The story has a happy ending. Paul intends this story as an illustration for all of us: we once were "married" to sin and could do nothing about it. Now we are "married" to Christ and set free. Thus in this story "woman" stands for the typical believer. Once married to sin, now married to Christ, any spiritual infidelity on our part to our new husband is spiritual adultery.
Thus James says to compromised Christians,
"You adulteresses. (feminine in Greek) Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever is a friend of the world (system) makes himself an enemy of God."
When any follower of Christ, whether man or woman, is untrue to his or her Lord Jesus, that person is guilty of spiritual adultery.
The place to pick up the Biblical theme of the adulterous woman--who later becomes the great harlot---is in Genesis. The primeval garden is seen to be populated by one man and one women, and the animals. We learn that the garden is regularly visited by God who talks to, and evidently teaches, the man and his wife many things. The garden was soon also visited by the tempter, a deceiving angel of light, called Lucifer, or Satan. The story of Eve's temptation and fall, and then Adam's sin is familiar to most of us. The weight of responsibility for this tragedy was charged to Adam's account---he is the head of our race. "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
It is possible for us to imagine a universe where Adam sinned first and then Eve, but in actual fact it was Eve who was deceived and Adam who followed---Adam sinned willfully and deliberately. The full force of the devil's solicitation to sin came to Adam through his God-given wife who he loved. Since she had sinned first when she brought the forbidden fruit to Adam, she was no longer in her heart a loving wife to her husband---inwardly she had become the first prostitute. She had committed spiritual adultery by breaking her own relationship with God and betraying her husband. Now she was the channel of his downfall also as Adam's seductress. God in fact indicts Adam afterwards as follows, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Adam's sin had permanent consequences. We were all "in Adam" at the time and we have all have inherited his faulty genes and self-centered disposition,
"Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned-- sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come, [i.e., the second Adam, Jesus]. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:12-21).
The passage above contrasts man's lost estate and hopeless situation "in Adam" with what happens to us when we are taken out of the First Adam and placed into the Second Adam at the moment we place our faith in Christ. Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, resisted all temptations successfully, and gave His life for His beloved Bride, the church thereby reversing the steps of the fall.
Eve (after she ate the forbidden fruit) is a type of the great harlot. She symbolizes the repeated patterns of sin in the internal life of every one of us. This is brought out in the New Testament by James, the brother of Jesus and pastor of the Christian community in First century Jerusalem. He says,
...each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown brings forth death. (James 1:14,15)
James shows that sin is like illicit intercourse. A seduction takes place, our yielding to sin conceives a child within us, as it were. The "child's" name is death. Death is the final result of sin in our lives, some time later--it can show up as boredom, loneliness, guilt, emptiness, frustration and despair.
Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
What some miss in reading Genesis Chapter Three is that God in grace restored Adam and Eve to fellowship with Himself, showing them in the process some of the consequences that would automatically follow their disobedience. (Genesis 3:8-20) We have just described Eve as a seductress and a harlot (a result of the fall). However as soon as she was called back to God, Eve was immediately fully redeemed and cleansed---as we all are when we come to Christ. Adam then called Eve by a new name, "the mother of all living." This is not a pejorative term at all. Eve, redeemed, is therefore a type of the church, the Bride of Christ.
Only 10% of Genesis is devoted to an account of the creation and early human (pre-flood) history, the narrative moves swiftly to Abraham and the patriarchs. It soon can be seen from the context that murder, prostitution, drunkenness and sexual perversion spread through human race swiftly after the fall, all springing from the same fountainhead of Adam's transgression in the garden.
Therefore the symbol of the great harlot is a fitting description of the bankrupt, spiritually prostituted state, of all of human beings since Adam. That is, the "great harlot" pictures the human race as seen by God, from an interior point of view.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
Jesus said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man." (Mark 7:20-23)
The exception to this dismal view of mankind is the company of the "called out ones," the true church of God who, having been redeemed, take on the inner qualities of a virgin bride through the redemptive work of Christ.
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle of any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Ephesians 5:25-33)
The figure of the harlot versus the virgin bride form a pair of opposites. The first symbol is that of lost humanity in Adam, the second of restored humanity in Christ.
Though the abstract theme of the "great harlot" is the subject of this discussion, scripture also does not hide the moral lapses of great men, like Judah who fell into adultery with a Canaanite woman. Shua (her name means "prosperity") seems to have been either a common harlot or a cult prostitute. The sons born of this union, Er and Onan---probably raised by their mother without much input from Judah---were both slain by the Lord for their wickedness (Genesis 38). It is instructive to follow the theme of prostitution and harlotry through the scriptures, starting with examples such as this.
Leviticus 21:14, which deals with the sanctity of the priesthood of Israel, teaches priests to "...take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his children among his people..."
The next reference in the Bible to a harlot occurs in Joshua. It was Rahab the harlot of Jericho who hid the spies of Israel (Joshua 6:17, 25; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), thus saving herself and her family. One Jewish tradition has it that she married Joshua. A stronger probability is that she is the same Rahab who became the wife of Salmon, thus becoming part of the blood line leading to the Messiah, Jesus. Rahab's faith in God brought her into the "household of faith" as a redeemed woman in spite of her former compromised Canaanite life style. God has always justifies sinners by their faith in Him, and when this happens they are no longer what they once were but are new persons, new creations. Peter later wrote for the benefit of all sinners---spiritually speaking we have all "prostituted" ourselves in serving foreign gods:
"You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers..." (I Peter 1:18)
The symbolic imagery of the theme of the great harlot becomes clear in the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a father's advice to his young son. The son is admonished to seek Wisdom, "she is a tree of life to all who lay hold of her," (3:18). At the same time he is to avoid the seductive snares of the harlot. Clearly something more than a street prostitute is in view here, (though that is not excluded as a case in point). Avoid the great harlot and find the woman called Wisdom, Solomon tells his son.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, links the woman Wisdom to Jesus Christ---Christ is the wisdom of God. Therefore the harlot becomes a symbol in Proverbs for false wisdom. She stands for the world-system (kosmos) with all its allurements and attractions. The world system is one of the believer's life-long enemies, constantly enticing us away from whole-hearted love and devotion to God.
"Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (vainglory), is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." (I John 1:15-17)
As an example of the imagery of the seductive harlot contrasted with the woman Wisdom, Proverbs 7 says,
"My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablets of your heart. Say to Wisdom, 'you are my sister', and call insight your intimate friend; to preserve you from the loose woman, from the adventuress with her smooth words.
For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man without sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And lo, a woman meets him, dressed as a harlot, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward, her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with impudent face she says to him: 'I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have decked my couch with coverings, colored spreads of Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.'
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its entrails; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for many a victim has she laid low; yea, all her slain are a mighty host. Her house is the way to Sheol (the grave), going down to the chambers of death." (Proverbs 7:1-27)
The harlot in Proverbs makes her appeal to the "young man without sense," that is, to the vulnerable, impressionable young person (the spiritually immature person) who has rejected the guidelines and counsel of his elders. The harlots appeal is "in the evening," so that what she suggests may be kept secret. She is "wily of heart," experienced in deceit, and she uses "much seductive speech" to erode his defenses. She charms the youth into ignoring his conscience and to be drawn by the attractions of "love" and pleasure. She also offers "understanding."
But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (I Thessalonians 5:4-8)
The harlot as a personification of false wisdom, offers knowledge as well as wealth and power. The appeal of Satan to our first parents was that by partaking of the forbidden fruit they would gain knowledge of good and evil and thus become "like God." This great lie---which is called "the" Lie in scripture (for example, in 2 Thessalonians 2:11)---is the lie that man can be is own god and is the master of his own fate and destiny. Through this one basic lie have come not only atheism and secular humanism, but all the false religions and cults in the world today which keep portions of the truth but lead their followers into destruction through false teaching subtly introduced.
The Apostle Peter says that Christians are destined to become partakers of the divine nature---which means God-like to a degree even higher than that known by Adam before the fall. However true God-likeness comes only when the believer recognizes himself as a vessel or container and not as independent, self-sufficient ego capable of doing anything he pleases. In fact Jesus said, "Without me you can do nothing." Contrasting true wisdom with false, James says,
"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom that comes down from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:13-18)
In this passage James draws a clear contrast between true wisdom coming from above and false wisdom, the counterfeit, coming from below. False wisdom makes her appeal to reason instead of revelation, to sight instead of faith. Her allurements are those of Egypt, (Egypt is a type of the world system). In spite of her outwardly attractive appearance and surroundings she is a murdering adulteress and has merely drawn one more of many to his destruction, "Her gates are the gates of death." Of course she is in reality the instrument of the one Jesus called "the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning." His aim is to twist, mar, divert and destroy men and women and he does so by "deceitful and crafty wiles." This is consistent with the admonition of John in his first epistle to "love not the world" since anyone who loves the world can not also love the Father, the two are mutually exclusive. Likewise Jesus spoke saying, "No man can serve two masters..."
The theme of the harlot is concentrated in the early chapters of Proverbs, but Proverbs 29:3 says, "He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but one who keeps company with harlots squanders his substance." Perhaps Jesus drew from this Proverb when he related the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32.
In regard to sins worse than prostitution, Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders in the Second Temple,
"Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him." (Matthew 21:31-32)
It is Isaiah who first identified the city of Jerusalem negatively by using the figure of a harlot to describe her,
"How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Every one loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the fatherless, and the widows cause does not come to them." (Isaiah 1:21-23)
An amazing exposition on this same theme is found in Ezekiel 16. Quite clearly it applies to Jerusalem in her late-history moral condition. "Jerusalem" (as a type of the spirit of man) also shows us what the spirit of man is like when our relationship with God has been one of long-term spiritual infidelity to Him:
"Again the word of the LORD came to me (Ezekiel): 'Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother was a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your navel string was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor swathed with bands. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you; but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live, and grow up like a plant of the field.' And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare."
Although the Jews were blood descendants of Shem, not Canaan, the son of Ham, they had intermarried with the dwellers of the land instead of destroying them as God had ordered. Canaanite pagan values had insinuated themselves into Jewish culture. Ezekiel says that Jerusalem is to be likened to an unwanted child, left outside to the elements to die. Fortunately the Lord walked by and took pity on this abandoned baby, took her in and provided for her until she grew to be young woman. Then Yahweh clothed her in finery and ornaments. To give her an even better future He then "married" her. All these vivid pictures reveal how God treats us when He takes us, like abandoned pagan children, into his royal household.
"When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love: and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with leather, I swathed you with in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I decked you with ornaments, and put bracelets on your arms, and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose, and ear rings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you, says the Lord GOD.
"But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passerby. You took some of your garments, and made for yourselves gaily decorated shrines, and on them played the harlot; the like has never been, nor ever shall be. You also took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given to you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the harlot; and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set up my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread which I gave you - I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey - you set before them as a pleasing odor, says the Lord GOD. And you took your sons and daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, weltering in your blood."
Enamored by her own beauty, the young woman turns from fidelity to her loving Husband Yahweh and begins to sleep with other men, and to abort her children for convenience's sake. She also "plays the harlot" with Egypt. (We are reminded of Solomon's' wrong behavior when he married the daughter of Pharaoh and other foreign women--1 Kings 11. These foreign women then "turned Solomon's heart away from serving God."
Jerusalem's lusts and passions caused her to turn to any man she could seduce, and she is described as "love sick" in spite of all her indulgences. Most whores charge their customers for their services. This one, God says, pays her clients instead!
"And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! says the Lord GOD), you built yourself a vaulted chamber, and made yourself a lofty place in every square; at the head of every street you built your lofty place and prostituted your beauty, offering yourself to any passer-by, and multiplying your harlotry. You also played the harlot with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your harlotry, to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you, and diminished your allotted portion, and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the harlot also with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; yea, you played the harlot with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your harlotry also with the trading land of Chaldea; and even with this you were not satisfied.
"How lovesick is your heart, says the Lord GOD, seeing you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot; building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned hire. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all harlots; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side for your harlotries. So you were different from other women in your harlotries: none solicited you to play the harlot; and you gave hire, while no hire was given to you; therefore you were different.
"Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, 'Because your shame was laid bare and your nakedness uncovered and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotries with your lovers, and because of all your idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you loathed; I will gather them against you from every side, and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood and are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into the hand of your lovers, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your fair jewels, and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a host against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women; I will make you stop playing the harlot, and you shall also give hire no more. So I will satisfy my fury upon you, and my jealousy shall depart from you: I will be calm, and will no more be angry. Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, behold, I will requite your deeds upon your head, says the lord GOD."
Anyone who has read the history of Jerusalem will know that the "city of peace" has been more often violently destroyed than any other. Here the Lord, through Ezekiel, tells us why. Her lewd conduct had become worse than anything that was to be found in Samaria (Ahab's capital) or in Sodom. It is for this reason that John in the book of Revelation speaks of Jerusalem allegorically as "Sodom and Egypt" as he writes of her final days of violence before Messiah returns. Yet in spite of all her whoredoms and unfaithfulness to her true Lover and Husband, God will restore Jerusalem to Himself. He will not deal with her as she deserves, nor hold her to the strict demand of the Old Covenant, but lead her into the New where grace abounds all the more:
"Have you not committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations? Behold, every one who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, 'Like mother, like daughter.' You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the South of you, is Sodom with her daughters. Yet you were not content to walk in their ways, or do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and the needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations which you have committed. Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have made judgment favorable to your sisters; because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.
"I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in the midst of them, that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate; and you and your daughters shall return to your former estate. Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your wickedness was uncovered? Now you have become like her an object of reproach for the daughters of Edom and all her neighbors, and for the daughters of the Philistines, those round about you who despise you. You bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the LORD. Yea, thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded and never open your mouth again because of all your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord GOD.'"
In Ezekiel's time the literal city and its people are in mind. However Jerusalem is symbolic of the spirit of man, while Judah, and the Northern tribes, have a correspondence to soul and body respectively. Therefore we should bear in mind that the Old Testament history of Israel is also the story of Everyman.
Even though God found fault with Jerusalem---describing her as a whore during the time of Isaiah---Yahweh defended Jerusalem before Sennacherib's attack during the reign of Hezekiah. This is a beautiful example of justification by faith. God protects His own, even when they deserve differently:
"She despises you, she scorns you---the virgin daughter of Jerusalem; she wags her head behind you---the daughter of Jerusalem," (Isaiah 37:22)
Thus God justifies and defends his people even in their apostate condition, provided they turn to Him for help with whole heartedness. She who has been acting as an unfaithful wife is defended by God as his "virgin daughter."
Just as the figure of the harlot and the virgin are contrasting opposites, so the Bible also speaks of two contrasting cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem. The fact that man today is not yet ready to live in harmonious community in a city hearkens back to the first city built by Cain's son Enoch, and to Nimrod who founded Babylon after the flood.
God's city, the habitation of the redeemed, is reserved in waiting until the end of the present age because man has not learned how to live in a city of God. The latter city, New Jerusalem, is referred to in Galatians as "the mother of us all," that is, she is the true Eve of all believers, a symbol for the feminine within the Godhead---identified as Wisdom in Proverbs. Christ as the Last Adam takes a Bride in the New Testament, not one woman but a glorious church "without spot or wrinkle." It is the New Jerusalem that descends from above (at the close of the Bible), "like a bride adorned for her husband."
An important passage identifying ancient Babylon as the center of all religious error and hence spiritual prostitution of mankind, is Isaiah 47:
"Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones and grind meal, put off your veil, strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no man. Our Redeemer---the LORD of hosts is his name---is the Holy One of Israel. Sit in silence, and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for you shall no more be called the mistress of kingdoms. I was angry with my people, I profaned my heritage; I gave them into your hand, you showed them no mercy; on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy. You said, 'I shall be mistress for ever,' so that you did not lay these things to heart or remember their end. "Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, 'I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children': These two things shall come to you, in one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments. You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, 'No one sees me'; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, 'I am and there is no one besides me.' But evil shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing. Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed, perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you. Behold, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before! Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have trafficked with you from your youth; they wander about each in his own direction; there is no one to save you."
This passage clearly brings out the fact that men will become "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God," that exalted ego power is blinding but universal---the harlot actually impersonates Yahweh the great "I AM" when she says, "I am and there is no other." Simply put, when men will not love God and be faithful to Him, their inner state becomes like that of a prostitute. Babylon, symbol of religious confusion, and the fountainhead for demonic pollution of mankind is a vivid example of this state of affairs. Also the harlot's influence is such that the poor are indeed oppressed by the rich---she is responsible for the terrible inequalities in our world: millions starving in Ethiopia and thousands living like kings in Silicon Valley. In spite of external beauty and splendor, the entire social system we call "civilization" is corrupt through and through. The harlot is said to deceive with her sorceries---it is worth noting that the Greek New Testament word translated as "sorceries" is pharmakeia, that is drugs in the bad sense (excess use of alcohol, the psychedelic drugs, tranquilizers, stimulants, etc.). The same Greek word "sorceries" is listed as one of the "works of the flesh" described in Galatians, consistent with the truth that inevitable results follow from not walking in the Spirit but in the flesh.
"Sin pays a wage, the wage is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
Out of the false religious system Mystery Babylon the Great has come astrology, drug trafficking, murder, sexual immorality, the demonization of man, all forms of divination, corrupt philosophies and sciences, the pursuit of pleasure, the love of money. (Bible commentators have noted that all false religions can be traced back to ancient Babylon: Hinduism and related Eastern Pantheism, Egyptian polytheism, and apostate Christianity.) The deceptive power and influence of the "great harlot" is more than just Babylon the city---the prophet Nahum speaks of "the harlot" in describing the destruction of Ninevah. Nahum says that judgment came,
"...all for the countless harlotries of the harlot, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her harlotries, and peoples with her charms. Behold, I am against you, says the LORD of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will let nations look on your nakedness and kingdoms on your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a gazing stock..." (Nahum 3:4-6)
In a very real way the great harlot somehow has the power to grant worldly wealth and splendor to all her followers, and she deceives the nations with her sorceries! We have only to think of the conduct of international affairs among the great powers of the modern world to realize they, too, have sold out to this same harlot. The figure of the great harlot is synonymous with the religion of the "Great Mother" and with many other ancient (and contemporary goddesses). Originally the worship of the great mother can be traced to the ancient Babylonian mystery religion, founded by Nimrod after the flood. (Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons is the standard reference on the subject). In ancient Babylon the ruling queen, Semiramis, was associated with her virgin-born son, Tammuz. Their joint adulation by men led to the cult of the mother and child familiar in our day as the Oedipus Complex of Freudian Psychology.
In the psychoanalytic work of the late Carl Jung, the archetype of the great mother was of central significance. Like most goddesses the great mother has positive as well as negative aspects. She is on the one hand seductress, temptress, sorceress, and destroyer; on the other hand she is the goddess of fertility and fecundity. She is Artemis, Aphrodite, Minerva, Venus, Isis and Shiva. As goddess of love she is behind all sorts of popular versions of love, romance and the royal road to happiness. She is often to be found to be the a ruling queen, like Jezebel, holding the reins and manipulating her consort husband as a puppet, and killing or castrating the young males in her court. She has real power and great wealth, and thus rewards with temporal blessings those who serve her. As her servant Jezebel did, the great harlot systematically seeks out and murders, when possible, the servants of God. Jezebel's sudden violent end (recorded in 2 Kings 9) is a good illustration of God's judgment of the harlot, the same kind of judgment as that depicted in Isaiah 47.
God's ability to quickly remove embedded evil from society, symbolized by the great harlot, is depicted vividly for us in Zechariah 5:5-11. In this vision the prophet saw a woman called "Wickedness" being taken by angels taken from Jerusalem back to her original shrine in Babylon:
"Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, 'Lift your eyes, and see what this is that goes forth.' And I said, 'What is it?' He said, 'This is the ephah that goes forth.' And he said, 'This is their iniquity in all the land.' And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the ephah! And he said, 'This is Wickedness.' And he thrust her back into the ephah, and thrust down the leaden weight upon its mouth. Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women (female angels?) coming forward! The wind was in their wings; they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, 'Where are they taking the ephah?' He said to me, 'To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it; and when this is prepared, they will set the ephah down there on its base.'"
In his research, as discussed in a separate essay, psychologist Carl Jung discovered feminine qualities in the unconscious of a man and masculine qualities in the unconscious of women which he said were "archetypal," that is deeply powerful almost instinctive patterns of behavior. He called these unconscious collective feminine and masculine forces, "anima" and "animus," respectively. Some of what Jung discovered seems to be in harmony with scripture, though Jung was himself a modern day gnostic and seems never to have become a Christian. The unconscious force of the "negative anima," or "great harlot" can be seen to be especially operative within males. Thus all temptation to sin and all dethronements of the king comes from within. The attractions and enticements of the external world are by and large projections from within ourselves. David's fall into adultery with Bathsheba was no spur-of-the- moment fall, the "seductress" in his heart had been plying her wares to the King for a long time before his actual public fall came about.
Both the Bible and modern psychology have shown that what is on the surface in a man is buried in a woman and vice versa. For this reason a godly mother, a godly sister and a spiritual wife are great assets to a man---through them he can learn to recognize his own deceitful self and the treacherous traps of his own heart. Naturally men are especially vulnerable to women who are not godly, spiritual or wise!
Of course "man" is a generic term when used in scripture, men and women are equally sinful and equally fallen. The harlot is at work within a woman's unconscious as well as a man's. A woman has, furthermore, a special connectedness to the roots of the eternally feminine. The lives of Queen Jezebel and her daughter Athaliah are chilling examples of what happens to a woman who gives herself over fully to evil. Yet, the fall of man in the garden was not charged to Eve's account, it was Adam's fault as Paul brings out in Romans.
Another interesting fact about the harlot's workings, is described in Romans Chapter One. One of the results of sexual perversion (homosexuality) in a man (or woman) is that he (or she) "receives in his own person the recompense which is his due." This internal payoff from sexual "inversion" frequently shows up as an inner feminization in homosexuals which eventually surfaces to make plain the loss of real masculine virility and identity. In Lesbians the results are often a hardening of features and pseudo-masculine behavior with a loss of true femininity. Jung says the anima in a man is the gateway to the unconscious and to true creativity, so the man who loses his interior life and beauty before God, because of his immorality, has lost all that is of true and lasting value in life. Of course at any point in a person's life, God stands ready to buy us back and to heal. The Book of Hosea illustrates this beautifully and eloquently.
Jeremiah denounces the harlotry of Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 2:20, 3:1-8), which is also the theme of the entire book of Hosea. The book of Hosea can be read with great instruction not only to perceive the tragic story of the spiritual adultery of Israel, the wife of Yahweh, but also to see God's redemptive love at work. In the end, Hosea's adulterous wife is bought back from the slave market and restored from her degradation and her shame. During the ordeals of her adultery and estrangement from her husband, both lover and beloved equally share the anguish brought about by the unfaithful wife. It is always true that God grieves and suffers over us when we choose the path away from his loving grace and protection. Hosea is a book not only about God and Israel, but also draws from Hosea's own life story of an unfaithful wife.
The Old Testament clearly shows that not loving and following God is always identical with slavery to the great harlot. James in the New Testament confirms this when he says, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4)
What God expects of us is summed up in the two great commandments, to love God with one's whole being, and one's neighbor as oneself, as I said early in our study together. Departure from this standard is where our spiritual adultery begins.
Why should the theme of the great harlot be so important in scripture while one can not find any parallel thread dealing specifically with fallen masculinity? It is true that the wild, rapacious "beasts" found in Daniel and Revelation are given for us to see how God views our "great" world leaders. The theme of the harlot seems to also represent concealed evil, the deceptive, treacherous side of human folly. This is illustrated in the parable Jesus told concerning leaven hidden in meal by a woman: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33)
Leaven, or yeast, is always and invariably a type of sin in scripture. Leaven works silently and permeates thoroughly. Only a small amount is required to "leaven the whole lump (of dough)." Thus, by the time history reaches its consummation in the return of Christ, evil will be found to have become thoroughly mixed with all elements of society spoiling it completely, as in the days before the Flood.
Although Christians do from time to time find themselves sinning deliberately and with full knowledge of what they are doing, it is also possible---and indeed common experience to be self-deceived, to "fall into the snare of the devil," and to be unaware of wrong motives before the fact. In the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter, from James, (1:14,15), regarding the fact we are all "lured and enticed" by our own desires, the Greek words translated "lured and enticed" are applicable to hunting and fishing. The tempter is the one who attracts and entices, who draws us to give in to desires so that we stop depending on the indwelling Christ for everything. The blinding, treacherous, subtle side of sin is what is summed up for our understanding by the figure of the "great harlot."
In the case of Samson, (Judges 13-16) literal physical blindness as well as complete loss of power and open shame resulted from his repeated yielding to a persistent seductress. It was not one failure but a bad track record that brought him down so low. God used Samson in spite of himself. He was not the man he could have been by a large measure, and his sins have been made part of the public record in the Bible. In his death God used Samson one more time, but he died a pathetic and tragic person. He was blind and in the prison of his enemies being taunted and treated like a clown.
"Eve was deceived, but Adam was not deceived," Paul writes in Corinthians, to show the two step process by which sin entered the world and the patterns of temptation and failure which we in turn have inherited, and compounded. As can be seen in Genesis, the tempter begins by causing us to doubt in some small way what God has said, or he twists in some small way the intent of scripture. He appeals to sight, to pleasure and to the attractiveness of secret "religious" enlightenment. Then he works on our minds to provide us with rationalizations for wrong behavior.
It is the last book of the New Testament that gathers together all the major themes of the Bible into grand summaries. (For a detailed analysis of the following passage see The Dragon Lady, by Ray C. Stedman). And so it is that we find in the Apocalypse of John that "the great harlot" has become both a woman and a city, just as God's great counterpart, the Bride of Christ is both a woman and a city (New Jerusalem):
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me (John), 'Come, and I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.' And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations.' And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, 'Why marvel? I will tell you of the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was as is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven hills on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom are fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.
William Blake, 1809
"As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and give over their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of Lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.' And he said to me, 'The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth. 'This passage, in addition to describing the final state of the great harlot, also has to do with the final, revived state of the Old Roman Empire which includes Western Europe and the United States primarily. The harlot as the final apostate church rides like a queen in full cooperation with, indeed supported by, the state. Her downfall is described by reference to the sudden and complete destruction that came upon ancient Babylon.
"After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. And he called out with a mighty voice, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.' Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for all her deeds; mix a double draft for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and played the wanton, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning. Since in her heart she says, 'A Queen I sit, I am no widow, mourning I shall never see,' so shall her plagues come in a single day, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she shall be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.'
"And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and mourn for her since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, and pearls, fine line, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. 'the fruit for which thy soul longed has gone from thee, and all thy dainties and thy splendor are lost to thee, never to be found again!' The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her will stand far off, in fear of torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 'Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste.' And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, 'What city was like the great city?' And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned crying out, 'Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! In one hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, O saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!'"
The great harlot is evidently closely associated with the world business and economic community in all its aspects. Society, science, culture and what is commonly called "modern civilization" are her handmaidens.
"Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea saying, 'So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more; and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more; and the voice of bridegroom shall be heard in thee no more; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.'" (Revelation 17:1-18:24)
Murder and violence have filled the great city symbolized by by Babylon and by Rome as the center of world civilization. The outward show and pomp of mere religious profession has made the visible church an apostate body resembling not a bride but a prostitute---in league and cooperation with the state, with the political powers of the earth. The city with its beauty and opulence and permissiveness fosters the hedonistic pursuit of pleasures, especially sex. Great market places reach out to satiate all credit-card shoppers so that they continue to consume and acquire more treasures on earth at the expense of the permanent, and the eternal. Robes of royalty and queenly power decorate the harlot to show the self-exaltation of man, and the misuse of religion by a prostituted church. It is she is who is responsible for the murder "of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus". It is the harlot in league with world leaders who support an entire world economic order that is thoroughly corrupt: banking, finance, trade and merchandising; the legal professions and educational systems are included.
The end of the harlot will come in one day. Blind and unaware of her impending doom, it comes, in fact from the hands of her "customers" who "burn her flesh with fire."
Drawing from the many parallel themes concerning world commerce and trade figured by the Phoenicians, the king and prince of Tyre, the Apostle John saw ahead to a coming day when world civilization will crumble suddenly and fall in full view of the redeemed of God. Then he adds,
"After this I heard what seemed to be the mighty voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.' Once more they cried, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.'" (Revelation 19:1-3)
Come down and sit in the dust,
8 Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures,
Roberta Gilbert teaches: The Rise of the Harlot Church
Revised May 10, 1991, December 7, 1996. June 15, 2021. January 26, 2022